On average, Americans get more than 10 percent of their calories from fast food each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fast food and weight gain usually go hand-in-hand, but they don't have to. If fast food is your only option at lunch, knowing your healthiest options can help you make smarter decisions and keep your calories -- and weight -- in check.
It's OK to eat a hamburger at one of the fast food burger chains. But the healthiest option for lunch is a regular-size hamburger -- or even better the kiddie size -- as long as you skip the cheese and the special sauce. As for side dishes to round out your lunch meal, side salads with light dressing make the healthiest choice. Many of the fast food burger joints offer chicken as well. A grilled chicken sandwich without sauce or a grilled chicken salad with light dressing both make healthy lunch choices, too.
It's not all fried at fast food chicken restaurants. Many of these restaurants offer a roasted or grilled skinless chicken options. The skinless white meat chicken is your healthiest choice at lunch. For sides, salads with light dressing also make a good option, as well as the vegetable sides such as green beans or mixed veggies. You should also skip the sauces and gravies to save calories, fat and sodium.
Pizza: Skip the Meat
According to the 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans, the No. 2 source of saturated fat in the diet is pizza -- full-fat cheese is No. 1. To make your pizza lunch healthier, and lower in saturated fat, top it with veggies or lean meats such as grilled chicken. To increase the nutrition, get your slice on whole wheat crust. A small salad with oil and vinegar also makes a healthy side dish to go with your pizza.
If you're eating Mexican for lunch, you have a few healthy options. You can make your own healthy lunch meal using the side dish and condiment menu with an order of black beans and rice with salsa. A soft chicken taco with a side of black beans also makes a healthy choice. If you can customize your order, a bean and cheese burrito with a light amount of cheese also makes for a healthy fast-food lunch.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Caloric Intake From Fast Food Among Adults: United States, 2007–2010
- Nutrition411: Eating Out: Your Best Bets
- Helpguide.org: Healthy Fast Food: Tips For Making Healthier Choices
- Boston Market: Meals Under 550 Calories
- KFC: Nutrition Guide
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- Taco Bell: Full Nutrition Information: All Items